What do institutions ever do for their localities? Quite a lot, discovers Geoffrey Alderman.
The University and the City
By John Goddard and Paul Vallance
Routledge, 232pp, Pounds 85.00
ISBN 9780415589925 and 9780203068366 (e-book)
Published 4 February 2013
Why do governments build and fund universities? An obvious answer is that they do so in order to increase the skilled workforce. But such an ambition is a very blunt instrument, since no one can be sure that graduating students will obligingly gravitate towards the employment that some government bureaucrat has mapped out for them. An outcome that is much more certain is that a university will have a direct and even quantifiable impact - or rather set of impacts - on its local and regional hinterlands. It is these impacts that John Goddard and Paul Vallance have set out to identify and evaluate. The University and the City is unlikely to win a prize for its written style or its verbal flourishes. But as a piece of careful thinking about a much under-researched aspect of higher education, it is admirably focused and deserves - and repays - careful study.
The volume dispels the notion that a modern university is or could ever be an ivory tower. Universities and the cities in which they are located are embedded in each other, their mutual societal and economic roles inextricably linked, even in the absence of formal mechanisms of linkage ("science parks," knowledge transfer "hubs" and the like). To say this is not to denigrate the successes of, for example, Manchester Knowledge Capital (an inter-university initiative) or the Newcastle Science City partnership. Neither is it to deny the obvious advantages that accrue from joint ventures in the field of public health - the critical research outputs that derive from collaborations between universities, local NHS trusts and medical charities.
There are, however, much subtler mechanisms through which these linkages are forged and reinforced. Goddard and Vallance are right to draw our attention to the cultural and creative sectors, and to point out that it is precisely because these "are not dominated by monolithic organisations like the NHS and local authorities" that university participation has proved essential to their success. If the achievements of the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership or the Gateshead-based Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (which owes much to the efforts of Northumbria University) are too formal for your liking, consider the public performances given by music and drama departments up and down the land and the museums to which universities give bed and board. …